the big foot washing debate….really???

washing feet icon

One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.

Pope Francis on how priests should be – Vatican Insider

I’m hoping to take a wee bit of a break from the computer during these holy days, but I just have to share this. Pope Francis addressed priests at the chrism mass this morning in Rome. As with all that he has done so far, his words are like a breath of fresh air. There is no mention of the privilege and exclusivity of the priesthood. He calls them all to go out to the outskirts of society, to reach beyond church walls, to be with the people. The words are all the more meaningful, because they are spoken by one who has lived these words. Here are a few quotes….

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith…

It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all. A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart….

It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

via Pope Francis on how priests should be – Vatican Insider.

Many years ago, I listened with a heavy heart to a priest preach on Holy Thursday about how special he was, turning our focus on his “priestly, consecrated hands”. How different are the words of Francis. They bring hope for a renewed understanding and respect for the priesthood; something so needed in our church today.

A blessed Holy Thursday to all!

we have a pastor pope!


I’m still relishing the first days of the new papacy. My hopes were not high as the conclave approached. The top contenders seemed to be more of the same old, same old. I SO wanted to have the WOW factor with a new pope. And, the WOW factor we got!

Many spoke of the need for a pope who would be a true pastor. I did not realize how much we needed this until Pope Francis stepped out on the papal balcony. Each day, proof of his true pastor’s heart makes head-lines around the world. Tomorrow, he will be celebrating the traditional Holy Thursday mass with the foot washing at the chapel of the Casal del Marmo Penitential Institute for Minors (IPM) in Rome. It will be a simple mass, with no live coverage. Not turning the gesture into a photo op makes it even more genuine.

My catholic dialogue column in this week’s issue of the Prairie Messenger has little to say that hasn’t already been said about Pope Francis, but here it is…

Humble gestures of pastor pope a welcome change